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June 26, 2015

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Returning to work after cancer

Back view of large group of business people, woman facing opposite direction, elevated view. Image shot 2007. Exact date unknown.

A higher number of cancer survivors return to work, which can bring challenges to the workplace. Dr Joanne Crawford explains an IOSH-funded study looking at the health and safety implications of returning to work after cancer

According to Cancer Research UK, the number of people diagnosed with cancer worldwide in 2012 was 14.1 million – the most common cancer in men being lung cancer and in women breast cancer. Half of those diagnosed with cancer now survive for at least 10 years, although survival rates vary between cancers.

It has also been suggested that because of increases in ageing of the working population that the number of new cases of cancer will increase. On a more positive note, research has identified that between 40 and 80 per cent of cancer survivors return to work, but this does bring challenges in the workplace in managing return to work and workplace risks.

However, there are some excellent sources of support, including Macmillan Cancer Support and others, with these sources more often focusing on human resources aspects rather than safety and health issues. Occupational health provision, where available, also provides essential help.

Research outline

The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM), in collaboration with Loughborough University and Affinity Health at Work, has been funded by IOSH to understand the health and safety implications of returning to work after cancer. Firstly, this involved reviewing current knowledge to develop an evidence-based review and identify best practice in this process. Secondly, the research involves the use of case studies to examine the experience of returning to work after cancer by employees and stakeholders within ten different organisations. The final stage of work informed by the previous two stages will involve the development of guidance to support those managing safety and health risks relating to those that return to work after cancer.

Why is this research of importance to the safety and health professional?

It is hoped that the findings from this work will be twofold, increasing awareness of the issues surrounding return to work after cancer, as well as giving additional skills and guidance to safety and health practitioners to draw upon, especially those that are not linked to an occupational health service.

How do you think the research findings might improve practice in the workplace?

Improvements in practice can come through a better understanding of the potential impacts that cancer and the treatment of cancer can have on an individual’s ability to work. Therefore, by improving the risk assessment process by considering these impacts within it for example, we should be able to maintain a safer workplace for those returning to work.

When will the research findings be published and what are the next steps?

Research papers from the project will be submitted to two international journals and a full and summary report will be available from IOSH in 2016.

Where can readers find out more about the research?

For further information please contact Dr Joanne Crawford at: [email protected]

Dr Joanne Crawford is head of ergonomics and human factors at the IOM



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